Real Tips for Virtual Field Trips

No money, no time, limited opportunities for class field trips these days? No worries—go virtual! You don’t need permission slips, chaperones, or transportation. You don’t even need to buckle up. But don’t kick back and relax just yet—you DO need to plan, preview, prepare, and present and review any trip, virtual or real.

Virtual field trips can be as simple as a photo display of the monuments in Washington D.C., or more involved with interactive videos and additional links. A virtual field trip can take you and your students to a museum, zoo, battlefield, historic home, or outer space. You can stimulate student interest and enhance studies of a wide variety of topics. Use trips to introduce a lesson, highlight an era in time, or clarify a scientific concept.

Once you get the hang of it you can start creating a library of audio/visual experiences to enjoy in the comfort of your classroom. You might even be motivated to start creating your own field trips. These trips can be taken when the topic presents itself or the mood suits.

First you need to see if a trip is available for a topic you are interested in.
Where do you want to go?

  • A good place to start might be if you are not certain what subject matter is available. If you are studying early U.S. history/American Revolution, might be just the ticket. Check the Multimedia section for video, podcasts, etc.
  • Studying space or the solar system, and want to upgrade the old Styrofoam planet display? Try and take the virtual space tour. No, it isn’t an IMAX experience or a thrill ride, but with the narration, music, and graphics you could be sitting in a spaceship or a fancy lab. Click and learn about a variety of things, planet by planet.
  • The Smithsonian Museum offers a plethora of opportunities for extended study depending on the museum chosen.
  • The National Geographic site has much to offer, including videos on a wide variety of topics and a kids’ section filled with interactive
  • Another site with a wide variety of virtual field trips is If you are still unsure, take a quick trip and see if you like this mode of travel.

It may take a while to find sights of interest, but it is an effort worth making to add a little something extra to your class presentations.

Take the trip yourself and make certain it is appropriate for your students. Check the links, too. Note ones that will enhance your study and a make sure none would be problematic. This is a must before each trip. Sites sometimes change or disappear. You don’t want to cancel a promised event at the last minute, and you certainly don’t want to see something inappropriate that wasn’t there last time!
Once you have familiarized yourself with the trip, you may rethink your whole lesson.
You might find that the tour itself will not engage your students but a short video from the site will. The San Diego Zoo, for instance, offers a number of short videos and web cam experiences that could be great discussion starters for any number of animal-related topics.

Prepare and Present
Decide what type of preparation you and your students should do before your excursion. Will the virtual tour serve as the opener for a new area of study or will the class need to do some research beforehand? Might some vocabulary development prior to the experience help? Double-check your standards, too. You might be able to address a number of them with one trip.

Take cues from students’ responses during the presentation. Note what is catching their interest. Is the response what you expected? Jot down key phrases or remarks made and address them after the viewing. Incorporate as much time as possible to discuss the tour.

Most of the educational sites you will go to for virtual tours, podcasts, and videos have sections for educators. Many offer ideas for follow-up activities and materials to help with review. You might wish to combine them with your own to further enhance studies.

Reflect along with your students. What was the most interesting part of the presentation? What did you learn? Was there a least favorite part? Would you view it again?
How can you extend the experience now, and next time?

Have you taken any great virtual field trips? Let us know!

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